Quinoa & Ratatouille

I am training for an upcoming 100 mile bike tour organized by my friend David called Tour de Witt.  Our rides in preparation for the event range from 1.5 to 3+ hours of cycling per ride.  As you can imagine, we have a lot of good quality time to discuss the issues of life, like: the health benefits of Quinoa.  Second only to potatoes, this complete protein was among the most important parts of the diet for the Incas of South America who held the crop to be sacred.  Vegans love this food because, among other things, it’s high in calcium.  The fact that it is also gluten-free makes it one of the most flexible foods to cook with. Especially in Peru, quinoa is used frequently and in a variety of ways.  Some use it to make flan, a famous spanish dessert custard usually drenched in caramel. More common uses include salads, stews, and even soups.  An easy way to incorporate quinoa into a meal is by substituting it for rice.

Ratatouille is one of my favorite French dishes.  I had it when I went on a trip to Switzerland with my son Manu.  Usually, these roasted veggies are served as a side dish, but we had it as a meal served inside a perfectly made crepe.  Traditionally, the mix of ingredients include tomatoes as number one, along with garlic, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant, oregano, basil, and perhaps other herbs.  In Suisse, the chef also included mushrooms which brought the dish to a whole new level.  Every chef has his/her own opinion on how to correctly make this dish: vegetables should cooked separately so that their individual tastes don’t lose their integrity; they should be cooked together; some should be cooked together to make a sauce while others are cooked separately. However people decide to do it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that people understand its rustic elegance, importance, and flexibility.  It’s elegant because the integrity of the vegetables are highlighted in such a great way.  It’s important because it is a super healthy and delicious answer to how to use all of those veggies in the overproducing garden that sometimes creates more waste than food.  And it’s flexible because, unless you’re from France (or in France), you can really throw in a wide variety of vegetables into this dish and people won’t really care.

The dish that I’ve made is really a fusion of the Andean Quinoa with the French Ratatouille prepared in a Korean Bibimbap approach (in reality, a bunch of different countries use this approach — but more on that in a different post).  It was inspired on a my bike ride with David because, as he discussed his new love for quinoa, we passed by a mom and her children harvesting produce from their garden in preparation for a visit to the Farmer’s Market.  The eggplant caught my eye.  Yesterday after work, I went back to their home and purchased carrots, zucchini, onions, and two varieties of eggplant that were picked right before my eyes at the time of purchase.  Awesome!  After arriving at home, Judy went on a trail run with Tennille and our friend Edwin and I had the kitchen to ourselves.  We grabbed tomatoes, fresh thyme and oregano from our garden and began to chop vegetables while the quinoa cooked in vegetable broth on the stovetop.

After cutting the vegetables in large chunks, adding some mushrooms and potatoes from the fridge, and tossing them in olive oil, salt, and fresh herbs, we allowed the oven to do its magic.  It did a great job.  I wonder if anything can beat the tastes of fresh vegetables very simply seasoned?  I will come back to this dish again–perhaps every single year.  I may come back to it multiple times during the year.

Yesterday, we didn’t just eat dinner–we celebrated the complicated elegance of great tasting food that can only be appreciated fully when prepared in its simplest form.  Thanks to David for the inspiration to make a quinoa dish, to Judy for letting me go crazy in the kitchen while she ran, to Edwin for the experience, and to the rest of the farmers that our neighbor represents: people who take pride in growing the great food my family eats.